When it comes to the 400m, Ireland has never had an athlete quite like David Gillick, and during last weekend’s World Indoor Championships he was an interested spectator — though from afar — as Phil Healy ignited hope that the glory days may yet return.
Gillick, who holds the national record at 44.77, had planned to be in Birmingham on behalf of RTÉ but had to watch on TV after being unable to travel due to Storm Emma. It was another gloomy championships for the Irish, with all five competitors falling short of their season’s bests, though Healy’s performance certainly lifted the spirits.
“Phil was the leading light,” he said. “She had a decent championships and with the indoor season she had, a semi-final was always within her grasp. A final would have been a big ask, but the way she ran was impressive — confidently, aggressively.”
Healy shot to the front in the opening lap of her 400m heat ahead of two world-class athletes in Eilidh Doyle and Stephenie-Ann McPherson, and eventually came home third in 52.75 to advance, the first time since 2010 an Irish athlete has done so at the event. Later that night, she bowed out after a third-place finish in the semi-final in 53.26.
Although that was more than a second off her best, Gillick believes the experience gained this indoor season will prove valuable to the 23-year-old Bandon sprinter, who only moved up to the 400m in 2016.
“She ran 52.08 in January, backed it up with a 52.6 and then went to 53.1, so without being too harsh the times are going in the wrong direction,” he said.
“But it comes down to peaking. Phil is young, new to the event, and as she gains more experience and matures she’ll be better equipped to get her peak right.”
Gillick was European Indoor 400m champion in 2005 and 2007, though in later years he put less emphasis on the indoor season, reducing his racing schedule to focus on outdoor championships. After Healy’s breakthrough spring season, he hopes Healy will now be poised to make an impact at the European Championships in August.
“The key thing is taking stock of where she’s at, doing the plan and making sure she gets it right for the summer,” he said. “Her indoor season will get her into decent races and that’s key for building confidence — competing against top class athletes. She’s going to get stronger. I’d love to see her time comes down and I think they will.”
Elsewhere, Gillick saw scant cause for celebration among the Irish contingent: “Aside from Phil, there isn’t a whole lot to shout about. Overall it wasn’t great championships but we need to build on it. It’s a big year for Irish athletes and we need to get as many as we can qualified for the European Championships.” The one big positive, of course, is that none of the five fell victim to the strict officiating, which saw more than 20 athletes or teams disqualified, mostly for lane infringements.
“You can look at the rulebook and say the judges were only doing their job, but when you have such a high number, something’s not right,” said Gillick.
“I’ve run in Birmingham on numerous occasions and never had an issue, but [at the European Indoor Championships] in 2007 there were a good few disqualified. These lads are running 30kph around a steep incline of 10-15 degrees, and you’re always going to be thrown to the inside of the lane. If they’ve narrowed the lanes and made it uncomfortable for athletes, maybe that’s what was behind it.”
Current rules dictate that any athlete to place any part of their foot on the inner line around a bend is disqualified, but Gillick believes that’s too draconian: “They have to look at whether they got a clear advantage from running inside the line or whether they’re a millimetre on the line. I don’t want to be harsh on the judges, they are only doing their job, but there has to be a way to appeal it with a bit of common sense.”
Gillick was speaking at the launch of the 2018 Women’s Mini Marathon, which takes place on June 3.
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